Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Theodore Roethke and Ogden Nash
Sit side by each on my library shelf

If you examine the following rhymes

Can you randomly choose who penned which after being inspired by a hippopotamus???

The Hippo

A Head or Tail - which does he lack?

I think his Forward's coming back..
He lives on Carrots, Leeks and Hay;
He starts to yawn-it takes All Day

Some time I think I'll live that way.

Behold the hippopotamus!
We laugh at how he looks to us,
And yet in moments dank and grim,
I wonder how we look to him.
Peace, peace, thou hippopotamus!
We really look all right to us,
As you no doubt delight the eye
Of other hippopotami.

Such widely divergent poets - Nash, the light hearted humorist, whose verse almost verges on the ditty, but who, nevertheless, was widely acknowledged in literary circles.

And Roethke, whose dark spirit caused him such mental anguish during his lifetime, and who, besides his nonsense poems, wrote such poignant lines -

not easily come by.
When opposites come suddenly in place,
I teach my eyes to hear, my ears to see
How body from spirit slowly does unwind
Until we are pure spirit at the end."

And his words from "The Waking" so often quoted - "I wake to sleep and take my waking slow. I learn by going where I have to go."

And yet some of his poetry rivals Ogden Nash for light-heartedness and breakthroughs in the use of language.

They were peers, Nash and Roethke, - both of them affected by the depression of the thirties in that they did not have the necessary money to finance their educations.

Roethke, much more serious, won many awards for his writing.

Nash made his way into the hearts of people dealing with a difficult time in the thirties and forties of the last century. His books have been with me for over sixty years, - well thumbed, and much of his verse is imprinted on the inner pages of my brain. They make me smile and lift my spirits, and besides that I admire his wit and his wonderful comments on reality.

The Parent
Children aren't happy with nothing to ignore,
And that's what parents were created for.

Family Court

One would be in less danger
From the wiles of the stranger
If one's own kin and kith
Were more fun to be with.

And, of course, - "Candy is dandy - but liquor is quicker!"

Roethke is later coming to my book shelf, but I value him equally for the beauty of his language, and the poignancy of his thoughts.

"Come littlest, come tenderest,

Come whispering over the small waters, Reach me Rose, sweet one, still moist in the loam,
Come, come out of the shade, the cool ways,
The long alleys of string and stem.
Lean from the tiers and benches,
Cyclamen dripping and lilies.
What fish ways you have, littlest flowers,
Swaying over the walks in the watery air,
Drowsing in the soft light, petals pulsing."

His father's greenhouse, with its benches and greenery and warm fragrance, comes alive for me, and I am in awe of how he perceives......

Roethke wrote "The Hippo" - a dead give-away is the last line.

Nash wrote "The Hippopotamus" - a nice little bit of reality in comic verse.

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